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When you reach into a cooler for an 8-pound bag of ice on a hot summer day, you register a few things in the ritual: the cold blast of air on your sweat-drenched T-shirt, the weight of the bag, the promise of refreshment. It’s likely, though, that you’ve never noticed the ice box itselfits logo, dents, shape. But after flipping through photographer Cynthia Connolly’s Box of Ice Boxes, a set of 22 black-and-white-photograph postcards in a cardboard boxwhich also includes a real ice bagyou’ll never overlook another ice machine.
“When I started, I was doing it because I thought they were funny,” Connolly says of photographing the coolers. “As a child, I always loved the ice machine. Because I grew up in L.A., I never saw snow.
“I realize now I take photos of things that are going to disappear,” she continues. “Like I believe wide-open spaces are going to disappear, and they’re soon going to be cluttered with cell-phone towers. When you stand in front of an ice machine and you look at the type, some of the stuff is hand-painted. There’s nothing left like that; everything else is completely modern. Signs are all printed; nothing is hand-drawn. Now the ice machines are going away.”
As a photographer, Connolly has been successful taking the stuff of everyday observation as her subject matter. Her series of photographs People From Washington, D.C., With Their Favorite Mode of Transport was exactly that: portraits pairing D.C.-area indie-rock anti-stars and their rust-bucket modes of transportation. And Connolly has always explored unusual ways of getting her work out therethe Transport pictures toured the country and the world, hopscotching from alternative space to indie gallery. They are currently on display at Now! Music and Fashion, in Arlington, and you can still buy postcard reproductions of images from Transport.
After Connolly injured her back putting in too many darkroom hours for her work on the 1988 book Banned in DC, a photographic scrapbook of the early harDCore scene, she stopped taking pictures and focused on her job doing publicity and advertising for Dischord Records.
She started taking photos again during a 1993 cross-country drive, when she shot her first images of ice boxes. “The ice machines are a constant reminder that I was free again,” Connolly says, “because I couldn’t do anything before that.” She snapped many ice boxes while driving between her photo shows, and some of them have made it into her touring exhibitionssuch as her most recent group show at the School of Photography in Rome.
The pictures in the series reflect Connolly’s enthusiasm for her subjectsnot just the whimsical ones that feature happy, hand-painted Eskimos, but also the abused ones that look like dumpsters with dirt-encrusted white paint, dents, and rusty scars. From Gretna, Va., to Panhandle, Texas, and Lilliwaup, Wash., to Mexican Hat, Utah, the character of the people who painted and use these machines seems flash-frozen in the white metal cubes.
“When I took more pictures, I started to realize how different the ice boxes were,” Connolly says excitedly. “You can interpret the whole human design of the type. The logos of the animals…the creatures that live with ice. [In] Polar Ice, there’s a polar bear sitting on a cube with his legs crossed. And then there’s the penguin and his wings are out, like he’s so excited: ‘I’ve got so much ice; I’m so happy!’” Jeff Bagato
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